ANALYSIS For the second time in a row, Mukhriz Mahathir’s bid for a key position in Umno’s hierarchy has been thwarted and none is likely to feel it more than his father - Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In the weeks that followed Mukhriz’s announcement of his candidacy for Umno’s vice-presidency, he has been the centre of attention and rightly so.

For one, he is the scion of one of the most famous and influential Malaysians ever. He is also the menteri besar of Kedah.

His campaign platform was a call for change, a rare virtue in Umno, on which he boldly claimed that status quo meant certain defeat for BN in next general election.

It all sounded good on paper, but there was one problem - as admitted by his father, Mukhriz was not the "chosen one". In less ambiguous terms, Mahathir likely meant that his son was not among the president’s men.

Endorsement culture

Immediately after the last week’s election of Khairy Jamaluddin and Shahrizat Abdul Jalil as head of Umno’s Youth and Wanita wings respectively, it did appear as though Umno members with voting rights were out to maintain status quo.

These voters were also aware of the fact that Khairy, and in particular Shahrizat, were deemed to be Umno president Najib Abdul Razak’s endorsees who were given powerful government portfolios before the Umno polls.

azlanBut when it came to the six-man vice-presidency race, there were no overt signals from Najib and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, who in public advocates an open contest.

However, the outcome of the vote in the Umno divisions that they headed - Pekan and Pagoh - made it clear that retaining the three incumbent vice-presidents - Hishammuddin Hussein, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Mohd Shafie Apdal - was definitely on the agenda.

Afterall, it was this combination which helped Umno improve its performance during the last general election. Why should Umno rock the boat, especially with an untested Mukhriz along with an aging Isa Samad and Mohd Ali Rustam?

Working in teams

To Mukhriz’s credit, he did come close to winning a seat, but not without some damage to his reputation, particularly in how his parents had to come out in public to defend him.

Mahathir was forced to defend allegations by international magazine The Economist which alleged that Mukhriz was gunning for Najib’s position as Umno president.

He even penned a long essay on his blog condemning the magazine.

NONEOn the other hand, Mukhriz’s mother, the normally media shy Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, gave a rare interview to Malay daily Sinar Harian where she made it clear that her son’s political career was independent of his father.

But apart from his parents, there were few other cheerleaders for Mukhriz who had chosen to work alone, unlike the three incumbent vice-presidents which packaged themselves as a team.

In Umno, where feudal practices still permeates the party, endorsements from the right people and strategic alliances are a powerful tool which Mukhriz, Isa and Mohd Ali had ignored.

Not long after retaining her position, Shahrizat had openly endorsed the three incumbents and had urged her fellow Wanita Umno members to vote for them. The Wanita vote is estimated to comprise 20 percent of the 146,000 Umno members with voting rights.

Is Hisham the Achilles' heel?

For now, all is not lost for Mukhriz as he finished with a respectable fourth place, trailing Hishammuddin by a narrow margin, but far ahead of Mohd Ali and Isa.

kuala terengganu by election nomination day 060109 wan farid discuss with najib and hishammuddinThe pressure is now on the more senior and experienced Hishammuddin, as the younger Mukhriz knows he still has another shot in the future and this election result shows that he is still within striking distance.

The fact that Hishammuddin had to run an intense cross-country campaign to lobby for support at the eleventh hour, even though he is among the president’s men, is testament to the fact that his popularity within Umno is on the decline.

This is a serious blow to Hishammuddin, who once helmed the education, home and defence ministries - senior cabinet positions that traditionally form the pathway to premiership.

Zahid’s performance as home minister - flamboyantly bringing back preventive detention and having a seemingly tough stance on organised crime - had won him praise within Umno and by being the vice-president with the most votes, makes him the de facto number three in Umno.

This is in comparison with Hishammuddin’s relatively lacklustre tenure as home minister between April 2009 and May 2013, a period that also saw several police personnel killed during the Lahad Datu incursion.

'Transformation' vs 'Mahathirism'

As the Umno election draw to a close, the power and culture of incumbency within the party is becoming increasingly clear and it will make it more difficult to attract new younger talent.

Moreover, the dynastic nature of Umno politics - as seen in the political success of Hishamuddin, Khairy and Mukhriz who are all either descendents or in-laws of previous prime ministers - still hold sway and does not auger well for BN which will have to face four million new young voters in the next general election.

NONEMahathir doesn’t seem to have a problem with this and had made it clear a month ago that “smart” and “new” people should be allowed to rise in politics, which many saw as yet another endorsement for Mukhriz.

To Mahathir’s opponents in Umno, this comes too little too late, since he has been blamed for fueling cronyism and nepotism during his 22-year reign as party president.

To his supporters, the man is a nostalgic symbol of an invincible and decisive Umno which the country needs now. Is that the change being sought? To reverse Najib’s “transformation” agenda?

For now, it seems, Umno’s grassroots wants the transformation agenda to continue and remain BN’s main thrust in the next general election.

However, judging from the significant number of popular votes obtained by Mukhriz, a yearning for ‘Mahathirism’ still exist.


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